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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Em­ba­ja­da and Em­bassy

Em­bassy (and Am­bas­sador) and its Span­ish equiv­a­lent, Em­ba­ja­da (and Em­ba­jador), both come from the same an­ces­tor, the Old French Am­bac­tos.

What is most in­ter­est­ing about these two is that it is an ex­am­ple of the pat­tern where the ‑j- sound in Span­ish maps to the ‑sh- sound (and its cousins, like ‑ss- and ‑ch-) in Eng­lish. Re­mem­ber syrup and jarabe, chess and aje­drez, sher­ry and jerez, and push and em­pu­jar for a few ex­am­ples.

Thus, the m‑b-j of emaba­ja­da maps to the m‑b-ss of em­bassy.

Ca­ja — Case, Cash, Cap­sule

The Span­ish ca­ja (“box”) comes from the Latin cap­sa for the same.

This gives us a sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion to some Eng­lish words that, on the sur­face, sound very dif­fer­ent than ca­ja:

  • Case — In the sense of, well, a box.
  • Cap­sule — Still re­tains the ‑ps- of the orig­i­nal Latin.
  • Cash — Orig­i­nal­ly meant “mon­ey box”. Fun­ny how the name of the con­tain­er turned in­to the name of the thing it­self.

The Latin turned in­to the Span­ish through an in­ter­est­ing pat­tern: the ‑sh- sound in Latin con­sis­tent­ly turned in­to the ‑j- sound in Span­ish (at first re­tain­ing the orig­i­nal pro­nun­ci­a­tion, but then un­der the in­flu­ence of Ara­bic, grew to the throat-clear­ing sound). With ca­ja, we have a slight vari­a­tion of the pat­tern, where the ‑ps- sound turned in­to the ‑j- sound. Thus, the c‑ps maps ex­act­ly to c‑j.

Que­jar and Quash, Squash

Que­jar, Span­ish for “to com­plain” does­n’t seem re­lat­ed to any Eng­lish equiv­a­lent.

But up­on clos­er look, it is a first cousin of both quash and squash.

How so?

All come from the Latin quas­sare, mean­ing, “to shat­ter.”

The re­la­tion­ship is easy to see if we re­mem­ber that the Span­ish ‑j- sound used to be the Latin ‑s- sound (and many vari­ants, like ‑ss‑, ‑si‑, ‑sy‑, ‑sh‑, ‑ch‑, etc).

Thus, the qu‑j for que­jar maps to the qu-sh of quash and the sq-sh of squash.

Com­plain­ing, it seems, is a form of quash­ing (squash­ing?) your op­po­nent!

Jeringa — Sy­ringe

Jeringa, Span­ish for Sy­ringe, sounds like it has noth­ing in com­mon with its Eng­lish counter-part. But they are lit­er­al­ly the same word.

The Latin sh- sound of­ten evolved in­to the j- sound in Span­ish — orig­i­nal­ly re­tain­ing the sh- sound but even­tu­al­ly, un­der Ara­bic’s in­flu­ence, trans­form­ing to the throat-clear­ing sound we know and love.

This ex­plains how both jeringa and sy­ringe de­rive from the same root: the Latin siringa, it­self from the Greek sy­ringa. The sy- sound is a vari­a­tion of the sh- sound and there­fore the sy-r-n‑g of sy­ringe maps to the j‑r-n‑g of jeringa.

Em­pu­jar and Push

The Span­ish em­pu­jar (“to push”) has the same com­mon an­ces­tor as the Eng­lish for the same, push: the Latin pul­sare.

Pul­sare meant, in Latin, “to beat”. A push is a sort of beat, in both sens­es: a punch and, a punch hap­pen­ing over and over again!

From the same root we al­so get the Eng­lish, to pulse, of course. As does… im­pulse. Yes, an im­pulse is in­deed a strong punch!

The sound here is a vari­a­tion of the sh-to‑j pat­tern, where vari­a­tions of the s/x/sh/soft‑g sound in Latin turned in­to the “j” in Span­ish (via the Ara­bic in­flu­ence) but re­mained the same as it trans­formed from Latin in­to ed­u­cat­ed Eng­lish. Hence the “sh” sound in “push”!


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